THE SCOOP | Orchestral Conductor Karl Hirzer Receives 2022 Heinz Unger Award

By Anya Wassenberg on November 25, 2022

Conductor Karl Hirzer (Photos courtesy of the Ontario Arts Council)
Conductor Karl Hirzer (Photos courtesy of the Ontario Arts Council)

Karl Hirzer, the associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, has won the Heinz Unger Award. Administered by the Ontario Arts Council, the biennial award is presented to Canada’s most promising emerging conductor.

The Heinz Unger Award is privately funded, and grants Hirzer an $8,000 award that he’ll receive November 26 at the Calgary Philharmonic’s concert. He’ll be conducting a program of dance themed works, including Stravinsky’s The Firebird (featuring dancers from the Alberta Ballet School), and works by Manuel de Falla, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie.

Karl Hirzer

A native of New Westminster, BC, Karl was composing at age four, and he earned his ARCT at age 17. Karl originally trained as a pianist. After earning a bachelor’s degree in performance at the University of Victoria, he went on to his master’s degree at McGill University. He still performs as a pianist, and has composed his first album of music that is set for release in 2023.

Karl conducted his first ensemble as an undergrad, and has never looked back.

  • He’s associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, after serving as resident conductor;
  • He served previously as assistant conductor for the National Academy Orchestra of Canada and the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble;
  • He has led orchestras across Canada, including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia, along with the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra;
  • He is a regular guest conductor with the contemporary group Land’s End Ensemble.

He’s as dedicated to presenting new works as he is to the beloved older repertoire. Karl Hirzer conducts the Calgary Phil in Johann Strauss’ Overture to Die Fledermaus:

During the COVID pandemic lockdowns, he created a video series about classical music for children titled An Orchestra Adventure. It’s been broadcast on PBS in North America, as well as on YouTube, where the series has gotten more than 100K views.

What the jurors said…

This year’s award jury consisted of Edmond Agopian (Edmonton), Catherine Dallaire (Québec City) and Martin MacDonald (Toronto). They issued a statement about their choice.

“Karl has a unique and compelling vision to make classical music relevant to new audiences. He is doing outstanding work with contemporary music, and he has a very engaging conducting style. He has clear potential for an excellent career.”

Previous Heinz Unger Award laureates include Earl Lee (2017), Nicolas Ellis (2015) and Martin MacDonald (2013).

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